Who are we?

Question: Who are we?

John Harbison: Well where we are at this moment is yet another confluence of … I would have to say on all sides fanatical, religious conflict. And I don’t think that it’s possible for the United States to, as a country, detach itself from a fanatical, religious tradition which is engaged in this situation. And in terms of grand historical forces, it’s a replay of things that have gone back many, many, years. And interestingly enough to me, because I wrote a piece for the 50th anniversary of Israel, where I went to Israel and I actually tried to learn as much as I could about what was happening there . . . but it’s centering on the same part of the world again that’s so often it has. Palestine, Jerusalem, and the crusades and the various occupations by all three of three forces are almost like a short history of the world. You could argue that the people with the most impact on the course of history are the ones that commit the worst deeds. Because then tremendous number of other people wind up with their lives completely co-opted in trying to deal with the consequences. So I guess it was quite a stir years ago when Hitler was man of the year on a Time magazine cover. That was, I think, a historically inaccurate representation. But you know, evil, or let’s just say nefarious purposes, are willing to use much more radical and damaging means than say a monk who was going out to help the poor.Well if you ask that question, you know, at the end of the 19th Century, I think everyone would have said yes. Of course we’re doing better. We don’t have slavery. We seem to be behaving more tolerantly and so forth. But then there was the Holocaust. And I think the real legacy of the Holocaust is that we can no longer think of a trajectory … you know, toward an enlightenment trajectory. Because of course the way I have to read the Holocaust is that the country from which I have, perhaps, the most artistic respect … because Bach essentially raised me as a musician … this extraordinarily developed country was at the heart of this utter calamity, and probably the most culturally sophisticated development that we’ve ever achieved. And also the country which had achieved the most sophisticated integration of various racial and national types. There was no country in Europe, for instance, in which Jewish people were more accepted in high stations and important professions. And then you had the camps. So I would say finding the overarching purpose, or if we were to take that to mean as it so often does, some development in the positive way about human nature, I think it’s very, very, tenuous and hard to believe. I think one has to believe much more in individual kindness, and daily decency, and much less grand ideas.

Recorded On: 6/12/07

On reconciling Bach and the Holocaust.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Think you’re bad at math? You may suffer from ‘math trauma’

Even some teachers suffer from anxiety about math.

Image credit: Getty Images
Mind & Brain

I teach people how to teach math, and I've been working in this field for 30 years. Across those decades, I've met many people who suffer from varying degrees of math trauma – a form of debilitating mental shutdown when it comes to doing mathematics.

Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

How KGB founder Iron Felix justified terror and mass executions

The legacy of Felix Dzerzhinsky, who led Soviet secret police in the "Red Terror," still confounds Russia.

Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Felix Dzerzhinsky led the Cheka, Soviet Union's first secret police.
  • The Cheka was infamous for executing thousands during the Red Terror of 1918.
  • The Cheka later became the KGB, the spy organization where Russia's President Putin served for years.
Keep reading Show less